FTF's contributing editor joins Holland America Lines and learns how to explore Alaska's Yukon Territory by land and sea — comfortably.
One morning in ’63 a new boy, Martin, from Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, walked into our Grade Two class. As our teacher, Mrs. Brand, explained to us that Martin came from the land of the famous 1898 Klondike Goldrush, most of us kids were more impressed that Martin lived so close to the North Pole, and that he probably knew Santa personally. Unlike our generation, with the advent of a number of family vacations now offered to Alaska and the Yukon, our children are able to experience the natural treasures of the far north for themselves. Here are some ideas for cruising and land tours in this area.
Contact Holland America, which is at the forefront of cruise and land tours to Alaska and the Yukon, offering packages to suit a variety of budgets, time frames and interests. Such holidays available are 7-day Inside Passage cruises onboard a luxury Holland America ship, with optional excursions from ports including Juneau, the capital of Alaska, and Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike. For those seeking to explore the interior of Alaska and the Yukon, there are a number of packages that include extensive hosted tours in addition to a fun-filled cruise.
“People are discovering cruises to Alaska aren’t just for older folks,” informs the cruise director of ms Statendam, Julien Sharp. “More and more urban parents are wanting to explore this part of North America – finding it both a wonderful learning and family bonding experience.”
Hal Welcomes All Ages
All Holland America ships exploring the north offer a Club HAL onboard program in addition to port excursions for the youngsters. Sharp explains, “Our Club HAL program for junior cruisers is divided into three groups. Children from 3 to 7 years, tweens from 8 to 12 and teens from 13 to 17. We have trained staff, all certified in CPR, who work under a Club HAL Director. The youth have their own designated daily program and special room. “Activities onboard include sports, arts and crafts, Teddy Bear Bingo and a teen disco. We modify the activity program according to the interests of the children onboard.”
To excite the children about Alaska, the ship’s naturalist speaks with Club HAL members about the sights they are about to see. Once at a port, there are a vast number of side trips offered for the whole family, many with prices discounted for the kids.
However, another option is the fully escorted “Just For Kids & Teens Tours” whose destinations vary according to the season. Previous stops for tweens included the Skagway Wildlife Museum, Molly Walsh Park and Playground, Pullen Creek, and Skagway River Suspension Bridge. Older teens are offered their own excursions as well, including opportunities to raft near Juneau and canoe and hike the Tongass National Forest.
Sharp adds, “Many times kids will go on their first excursion with their family, but as the trip progresses and new friends are made, they tend to want to check out the Alaskan ports with their fellow Club Hal mates.”
Land Tour Options
Many of Holland America’s passengers augment their cruise with a hosted land tour or a deluxe escorted tour that includes a tour director, meals and extra excursions.
Holland America Cruise Tours and sister companies offer plenty of tour route options. A popular choice for many from the ms Statendam included a stop in Juneau to shop for souvenirs, view the Mendenhall Glacier or embark on a Temsco Helicopter journey that actually lands on top of a glacier, where you can get out for a walk on the ice. Breathtaking!!
From Skagway to the Yukon
Keep in mind that the cruise line may change the ships it uses for this itinerary each season, but never mind — all of HAL’s Vista class ships are wonderfully comfortable and only frequent cruisers can tell them apart. After a final night back on the Statendam, our group disembarked in Skagway. A sure bit of fun was had by all on the Skagway Streetcar Tour, learning about the legendary scoundrel Soapy Smith, waiting to take advantage of the unsuspecting goldseekers of ’98. Those who could tear themselves away from the gift shops, went on an expensive but very exciting 2-hour glacier flightseeing trip.
After two days in Skagway, the group boarded the White Pass & Yukon Route train built in 1898 as the stampeders clogged the Chilkoot and White Pass trails on their way to the gold fields in the Yukon.
Once in the Yukon, aboard luxury motorcoaches, the Statendam group stopped in Carcross, a First Nations community, boasting of The Barracks, a gift shop whose owners call themselves, RCMP – Royal Caribou Mounted Police. Be forewarned, these odd mounted police women will arrest and throw you jail for any reason at all!
On to Whitehorse, the Yukon Territory’s capital where a visit to the new Beringia Museum and the exclusive Westours-Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a must.
The next stop of the tour was in rustic Dawson City, where the streets are no longer paved with gold or anything else for that matter. If your children won’t go to bed until dark – they will be up until September, cause the sun never sets on Dawson City in the summer.
A city tour included the former homes of poet Robert Service and writers Jack London and Pierre Berton. After that, we were off to Guggieville to pan for gold, then on to Gold Dredge #4. Tickets to the zany family revue at the Palace Grand Theatre were included with the package.
By Plane to Fairbanks
The next leg of the tour took the group to Fairbanks, Alaska, by private air charter. A highlight of Fairbanks is a trip down the Chena and Tanana Rivers on the Discovery 111, the last of the sternwheeler riverboats run by the third and very young fourth generation members of the Binkley family. Our trip on the river included a dog sled demonstration, and a visit to an old Chena Indian Village before visiting Gold Dredge #8 for a miner’s lunch, followed by a tour and more prospecting for gold.
Many on the tour could hardly wait to board the McKinley Explorer for an overnight stay at the McKinley Chalets in Denali National Park, before heading home by plane from Anchorage. An eight hour Denali wildlife tour was included in the package. Optional activities included rafting, horseback riding and a spectacular Denali Air flightseeing tour to Mt. McKinley – the highest mountain in North America.
Now it’s up to you. I suggest you take the time to think about what you want everyone in the family to experience in Alaska, then research the options to match your desires. As Governor Sarah Palin used to remind us while she was on the national scene, it’s a very big and important state — so you don’t want to skimp on sightseeing this visit.
I like the Holland America Line (877/932-4259) programs because they have been designing Alaska cruises and cruisetours since 1947. HAL and their sister companies, Gray Line of Alaska and Westmark Hotels, offer plenty of tour route options.
Make a list of your priorities: preferred schedule (when kids are out of school is the most expensive time to visit) and budget; love of wildlife, glaciers, the Gold Rush or all of it; and how much you can afford to spend on shopping and guided tours. Alaska is unique, so be sure to budget for shore excursions such dog sledding, glacier hiking, sea kayaking, and sport fishing. You are likely to find that Holland America has the perfect Alaska adventure to satisfy your family’s every need.
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